BCG Reviews

Diesel Live

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Diesel played Tilley's Devine Café last night (24 September 2005). Diesel was born in the USA but has lived most of his life in Australia. He made his name with his band's 1989 self-titled release Johnny Diesel & The Injectors - an excellent album of blues-inspired loud rock. After reinventing himself as Diesel, and later releasing an album or two under his real name, Mark Lizotte, he has reemerged once again as Diesel. In 2004 he released Singled Out, an album of acoustic performances, combining studio and live performances, containing mostly previously recorded material, but also a few new songs.

Apart from a couple of new songs, last night's solo acoustic performance featured material from Singled Out. It was a very similar performance to one I saw at Tilley's on 23 September 2004... although that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Diesel opened with One More Time. After this song I would have been happy for Diesel to finish, without encore, and let me get home to bed. Was it that bad? No! One More Time, originally release on Diesel's 1992 album Hepfidelity is one the best Australian songs of the 1990s. Diesel obviously thinks it is OK too - he included 2 versions on his 1993 collection The Lobbyist. This performance was wonderful.

Last night Diesel played and sang his heart out - his voice was awesome and his guitar playing inspired. Diesel's voice can only be described as soulful. When he's not singing, he's dishing out notes in a screaming falsetto, or just producing with rhythmic noise. His guitar playing is blues-based rock, fused with funk and many other influences - he's a master of the instrument, using it to play an effortless blend of rhythm, lead and percussion. The combination is a huge sound for a solo acoustic performance. I suppose some of the credit has to go to his sound engineer... although he did have a few problems with feedback last night.

Other songs performed included Don't Need Love and Cry In Shame, originally from Johnny Diesel & The Injectors, and other tracks from his solo outings such as Tip Of My Tongue, One More Time, 15 Feet Of Snow and Come To Me. There was also his rather large interpretation of Everybody's Talkin'.

Diesel's performance was excellent and I'd recommend seeing him if you have the opportunity. However, I'd personally like to see a different performance from him next time. Perhaps with a band - the last time I saw him in this setting was probably 1993 - or performing a different selection of songs...

Up To Here

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Up To Here is The Tragically Hip's first full studio album. Released in 1989, about 2 years after their EP, this offering takes a more rocky direction. Here is what the EP promised but, perhaps, didn't quite deliver. The production seems much bigger and the songs seem more interesting - riffs and grooves everywhere. Gord Downie's vocals are also more driven and powerful - this may be due to increased confidence. Also, while the EP contains individual songwriting credits, the credits for the songs on Up To Here are simply given to The Tragically Hip. With this album it looks and sounds like The Tragically Hip have arrived...

Favourite tracks? Lots! I certainly can't pick a weak song on the album. New Orleans Is Sinking is particularly enjoyable.

I think I'm going to enjoy wading through all the albums by The Tragically Hip that I've just bought...

Cowboy Junkies Live

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Last night I saw Cowboy Junkies at Humphrey's in San Diego, California. Humphrey's is a picturesque outdoor venue at a hotel by San Diego Bay. Cowboy Junkies are a Canadian band who I first saw about a year ago in Austin, Texas and was blown away. I've since bought the majority of their albums. Their music is hard to classify - there's a bit of everything. The feeling is generally mellow, but sometimes builds up to a heavier sound.

Cowboy Junkies recently released a new album called Early 21st Century Blues, which contains mostly covers and just two of songwriter Michael Timmins' originals. Quite a few of the songs they played last night were from this album. Interestingly, they didn't play any songs from their previous album One Soul Now, which is my favourite Cowboy Junkies album so far. Nevertheless, it was an excellent show. The band were in fine form. The regular 4 piece band (Margo Timmins - vocals, Michael Timmins - guitar, Alan Anton - bass, Peter Timmins - drums) were joined by regular guest Jeff Bird, who played electric mandolin, harmonica and percussion, and older brother John Timmins, who played guitar through most of the show.

The band opened with an inspired version of Bob Dylan's License To Kill. They also performed the 2 above-mentioned Michael Timmins originals December Skies and This World Dreams Of and Bruce Springsteen's Brothers Under The Bridge and You're Missing - the last is apparently a favourite of singer Margo Timmins and the performance showed this. They also dug into their back-catalogue, performing other originals like 'Cause Cheap Is How I Feel, Townes' Blues, A Common Disaster and Angel Mine - an incomplete and unordered list. The final song was a beautiful acoustic version of U2's One, which also closes the new album.

There were many standout moments but, like the band, they're difficult to categorise - everything just fits together, in kind of a Zen way. Margo Timmins' excellent moody vocals were well complemented by many short solos and extended instrumental interludes. The whole band simply built the mood all night, with Michael Timmins playing some wonderful lead guitar.

Time to stop gushing - I obviously love this band... and I loved last night's performance.

The Tragically Hip

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Note: After being stupidly busy and travelling for a few months, this is the first of a series of "first impressions" (OK, short and lazy) reviews of a number of albums that I've bought recently. The usual format of extended reviews will resume shortly.

I had heard of The Tragically Hip and had probably heard some of their music. So, out of curiosity (and thrift) I bought what I thought was their first album for $7.50 (Canadian Dollars). It turns out that "The Hip" are considered to be one of Canada's premiere rock acts, and what I'd picked up was actually an EP released before their first album. They're a five piece band - vocals, 2 guitars, bass and drums - and have now been around for about 18 years, still with the original line-up.

A few listens indicated a good, tight rock band with Indie tinges. Singer Gord Downie's voice comes across a little like that of REM's Michael Stipe, although he displays an interesting variety of sounds, including an excellent rock'n'roll growl. On this EP he also sounds a little like the singer from Australian band The Hoodoo Gurus - actually the whole EP sounds a little like that band. The songs are guitar-based, with both a rhythm and blues edge - sometimes you can hear The Rolling Stones in there, as well as that Indie jangle.

Listening to this EP prompted me to look for more information about The Tragically Hip on the Internet, which then prompted me to buy 3 more albums. The urgency of my multiple album purchase involved both my naturally obsessive behaviour (I listen, I enjoy a lot, I buy most of the back catalogue :-) and the fact that these albums cost $10 to $15 each in Canada, but will probably set me back about $30 each once I return to Australia. So, after skipping through the songs on 2 of the albums, I found 3 more in another CD store. So, I now have 6 albums by The Tragically Hip and 1 EP. I think this band's music is going to be a staple part of my music listening from now on.

Every Breath You Take - The Classics

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I've always liked things I've heard by The Police. However, glancing at the track listings for their various albums, I've never been able to decide which one(s) to buy. I don't usually by "best of" albums... they're not really albums. However, I finally gave in and bought a used copy of Every Breath You Take for $5 (USD).

This CD features an amazing array of songs, displaying more variation than I remember from The Police. Tracks include Roxanne, Message In A Bottle, Walking On The Moon, Don't Stand So Close To Me - and that's just 4 of the 1st 5 tracks. There isn't much more to say, except that the CD also contains the awful re-mix (or whatever) Don't Stand So Close To Me '86 and the bearable Message In A Bottle (New Classic Rock Mix) - these could have been omitted and would have felt more like I got value-for-money!

Overall, the songs on this CD are great. I'll have to look closer at the individual albums to get an even wider view of what The Police did...

Youth & Young Manhood

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Kings of Leon were indirectly recommended to me by a friend - someone had told him they played good rock music but he hadn't listened to them yet. I mentioned them to a couple of people I know and they thought they were OK. Yet again, I thought I'd probably heard a song or 2 on the radio. I also did some reading of the reviews of their first 2 albums on Amazon.com. The reviews were quite favourable so, while the US, I picked up a copy of Kings of Leon's first album Youth & Young Manhood - partly due to the cheaper price.

Reviews of Kings of Leon hype them as the next big thing. Even the future of rock'n'roll. Sadly, I don't think they're it.

Youth & Young Manhood is a solid album of roots-based rock music. A lot of the 1960s and 1970s influences are there, such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, along with later bands such as The Black Crowes. Personally I think The Black Crowes do this sort of thing a lot better and sound a lot more like the future that I'd like rock'n'roll to have. The band sounds pretty darn good. However, while singer Caleb Followill has a pretty good rock singer's voice, he displays little of the variation shown by the really good ones - passable, but not brilliant. The best song on the album is Molly's Chambers, which I have definitely heard played on Australian radio.

However, I really haven't given this album a fair chance. I've listened to it once on a portable audio player and once on an average car stereo. When I get home I'll listen to it nice and loud. Maybe some volume will help lift this album to the classic status that other listeners have given it... or maybe it won't. Stay tuned...

With A Little Help From My Friends

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Although I'd heard many of the songs from Joe Cocker's debut album With A Little Help From My Friends at various stages, I first heard this album in its entirety about 20 years ago when I bought it on vinyl. I've been looking for it on CD and finally picked it up for $7.50 in Canada. This album is great - I'm as impressed now as I was then - no wonder Cocker went on to become a superstar.

From the opening piano and bongo introduction of Feeling Alright to Cocker's soulful, closing performance of Dylan's I Shall Be Released, this album never misses a beat. Some of the arrangements and recordings are a little bit dated, but the performances are all fabulous. Naturally, one of the highlights is the title track, which begins with Jimmy Page's guitar, searing over the top the drums and organ... and then there are those excellent backing vocals... oh yeah, and Cocker delivering a classic vocal performance. Joe Cocker is one of the few people to make a Beatles songs his own - many people remember this version rather than the original.

This remastered CD comes with a couple of B-sides tacked onto the end. The New Age Of Lily is a bit weak and could have been left off. However, Something's Coming On is a welcome addition.

Cocker's debut comes across like a "best of". There are 10 great songs here...

Twenty One Stairs

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After seeing Jodi Martin back in February I was determined to get some of her albums. So I asked for, and got, a copy of Twenty One Stairs for my birthday. This album is only available by mail-order directly from the artist, who was away on tour, so my present was a little belated... but well worth the wait!

The first 6 tracks are "recorded live at The Sando" (The Sandringham Hotel in Newtown (Sydney)). These performances feature a bigger sound than I experienced at Martin's Canberra show, where she performed solo and was occasionally joined by a drummer. Twenty One Stairs features Jodi Martin's vocals and guitars, accompanied by drums, Hammond organ, bass and backing vocals - the last two are handled by Martin's sister Robyn. These songs sound great. The arrangements are simple but solid and the production of the live tracks is excellent for a small, independent release.

The opening track Love That Survives has a reggae feel and celebrates a friendship that survives despite things not being necessarily simple. The next song You Showed Me How is a similar celebration of friendship, with a straighter arrangement. Missing The Point has a slightly funky feel and the lyrics take an interesting look at misunderstandings in a relationship. This is followed by Things Don't Always Go To Plan, a beautiful ballad - and probably my favourite live track on the album. Hold On is another strong performance, and is followed by Robyn's Song - a quite personal tribute to Martin's sister. This is the final live track and is a solo performance.

The first of the album's 4 studio tracks Too Easy is a lovely song. It features Martin on acoustic guitar and vocals, accompanied by some Hammond organ, as well as her own backing vocal overdubs. The lyrics look at how superficial emotions make it easy to stay in a problematic relationship. Too Easy is brilliant - my favourite song on this album.

Although the other 3 studio tracks are also very good, I won't spend any more time picking this album apart. I'll have another listen instead!

Jodi Martin's lyrics are personal, and intelligently crafted. She writes about family, relationships and life in general, and does so from personal experience. She also seems to live her music - the performances are from the heart and full of emotion.

I'm very happy to have stumbled across Jodi Martin's music. Her music is influenced by an interesting range of rootsy musical styles, including country - however, my general lack of appreciation for country music isn't triggered here at all. I'm going to add her other 2 albums to my collection. I hope I enjoy them as much as I've enjoyed this one, which has been on semi-permanent rotation while I've been working for the past few weeks.

The Wallflowers

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I originally became interested in The Wallflowers when I picked up a copy of their 1996 album Bringing Down The Horse for less than it was worth. It was "that sort of music" - difficult to classify because it combined elements of many different styles of popular music... and very nice to listen to. Some time later I picked up their 1992 self-titled debut and listened to it a bit, but still preferred Bringing Down The Horse.

The Wallflowers lacks the commercial edge of the band's later releases. The songs seem a little rougher around the edges. The album is a little more rootsy and a little edgier. However, there are shades of things to come. For these reasons I now prefer this album over the later ones.

The album opens with Shy Of The Moon, a rootsy, jangly mesh of honky-tonk piano, organ and guitars. Musically, this song is very reminiscent of something by The Band (once Dylan senior's backing band). The next track Sugarfoot, has similar instrumentation, but features quite a heavy introduction and chorus combining organ and distorted guitars. Later on Another One In The Dark seems like a precursor to Bringing Down The Horse's pretty ballad Josephine - it feels similar and sound similar in some parts.

Among a collection of very strong tracks are 2 epic ballads. At just over 7 minutes Hollywood documents changes in what I presume is Jakob Dylan's home town. Later Dylan spends over 8 minutes discussing greed in Somebody Else's Money. Both of these songs feature strong piano work and hint at some of the more glossy ballads on later albums, but still manage to retain a nice raw sound. These are probably my favourite tracks on the album.

Near the end of the album Asleep At The Wheel features a solo Jakob Dylan playing finger-picked guitar and singing about a leader who has lost their way. The second last track Honeybee is another epic, weighing in at over 9 minutes, featuring Dylan initially singing falsetto, which I find reminiscent of The Band's Rick Danko. Finally, For The Life Of Me rounds out the set nicely.

This album is long: 12 tracks totalling nearly 70 minutes of music - nearly 20 minutes longer than any of The Wallflowers' subsequent albums. There are certainly hints that some, or all, of the songs on The Wallflowers were recorded live, with a certain amount of improvisation. This album isn't as consistently catchy and commercial as the band's later releases. However, it does have some properties that the later albums lack so, although it might not be representative of what the band has done over the last 10 years, it is my favourite album by The Wallflowers.

Serena Ryder Live

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Serena Ryder supported Missy Higgins at Canberra's Royal Theatre on 13 April 2005 . Ryder is a singer/guitarist/songwriter from Canada.

Ryder opened with an out of control a capella performance that was reminiscent of the bonus track from Alanis Morissette's album Jagged Little Pill, but much louder. I might be getting hung up on the similarity of their accents a little too much, but I ended up seeing Ryder as an Alanis Morissette caricature. Some of her songs were interesting, but she was inconsistent in many ways... though the far-too-consistently loud volume of her voice overrode any other inconsistencies and just made her boring.

Also, her guitar playing or equipment, or both, let her down. First, she stopped playing in the middle of her second song and tuned her guitar. Later, she managed to produce some low pitched booms (or feedback?) that were so impressive she stopped and asked the sound crew if they had any idea what was happening! Her playing generally sounded "scratchy". Later, when her guitar was going consistently out of tune, she asked to borrow one from another artist. Perhaps she was just having a bad night? However, being international performer who travels the world with a single guitar does not sound like a good plan.

Having said all of that, Serena Ryder may well be "the next big thing", since a fair percentage of the audience seemed supportive of her performance. She displayed a very loud and impressive vocal range, some interesting song-writing and an interesting attitude towards performing. However, I was glad when it was over.

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